When someone says “science fiction,” what comes to mind? Space exploration? Futuristic technology? Aliens life forms? We tend to think of science fiction in those terms, but the best sci-fi stories don’t just spark our imaginations. They find a way to bring the story back home to the beautifully flawed humans who inhabit planet Earth. The brilliance of science fiction is that—no matter where or when it takes place—it creates a backdrop against which we can examine human nature and ask the question “What does it mean to be human?”
In Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, the human race has colonized our solar system and evolved into a color-coded Society. Darrow is a Red, part of a slave workforce trapped beneath the surface of Mars. The Reds have been lied to and cruelly oppressed by the Golds. The Golds have taken everything from Darrow—his father, his wife—and now they’ve condemned him to death. When Darrow is given the chance to become a Gold, he seizes the opportunity to get revenge on the ruling class. But first he has to survive the Institute (think Percy Jackson’s Camp Half-Blood meets The Hunger Games).
We’re taken to a brutal competition on an alien world. The humans have advanced technology and god-like abilities, but all of this is just setting the stage. What makes Red Rising such a fascinating story is the characters—the human factor. Some of the students give in to their darker nature. They seek power and revenge, sacrificing anyone and everyone to gain victory. Other students choose to rise above their circumstances, to see the big picture and live for a purpose beyond the Institute. We’re shown the power of loyalty, freedom, and love. We see both the best and worst that humanity has to offer.
“A character doesn’t have to be human in order to explore human nature”
Stories involving artificial intelligence are an excellent way to ask the “human” question, especially when we’re not sure who’s human and who’s really AI. (Check out Partials by Dan Wells or The Legacy Human by Susan Kaye Quinn for some thought-provoking AI reading.)
A character can even be alien. The Superman reboot Man of Steel might not be the best movie ever, but it did a good job of including the human factor. We all know Clark Kent is Superman and that Clark is really Kal-El, an orphaned refugee from the planet Krypton. Clark has to hide who he is and what he can do. If people found out, he’d be labeled as an alien. A freak. An outsider. We see his fear and insecurity, his loneliness and longing. Giving relatable, human emotions to an alien character made Man of Steel a more intriguing story.
If you’re planning to write science fiction, go ahead and create those far-off worlds. Introduce us to mysterious aliens and lead us into epic space battles. Set our imaginations on fire. Just don’t forget to bring your story “home” because the human factor is the secret to great science fiction.
Guest Post by: Kim Vandel
Kim Vandel is a grownup who loves to read and write teen fiction. She worked in the field of environmental science before pursuing her dream of becoming a novelist. Her first book, Into the Fire, is a double semifinalist for the Realm Award (debut and young adult categories). She’s currently working on the sequel, Among the Flames, and hopes to release her sci-fi novella First Breath later this year. Kim lives with her family in the Seattle suburbs—the land of Microsoft, Nintendo America, and approximately five million Starbucks
Into the Fire (Book One of the Under Fire Series) available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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